Republicans capture House District 32 in expensive contest
Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber is the new state representative-elect in House District 32.
Long represented in the Legislature by Democrats, HD 32 includes all of Clatsop County and parts of Tillamook and Washington counties, including Gaston and Gales Creek. It was left vacant with the retirement of state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, who announced plans in March to move to Washington state.
"I love it," Weber said Wednesday, Nov. 4, of living in the coastal district. "I don't intend to leave."
Unofficial results show Weber leads the Democratic nominee in the race, Warrenton businesswoman Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, by an eight-point margin — a decisive edge in a district that is ancestrally Democratic, and two of whose counties voted for Democrat Joe Biden at the top of the ticket.
Boothe-Schmidt conceded the race on Tuesday night, Nov. 3.
No Republican has represented the North Coast in the Legislature since 1983. The last Republican to serve as its state representative was Ted Bugas, who served three terms in the House.
Weber believes her constituents are ready for a change.
"We're a working-class area. We're farmers, we're fishermen, we're in the forest. And I think that people were tired of being marginalized in this area by big city politics, and I think that they decided to stand up for themselves … and take our agenda forward," Weber said.
She added, "Our agenda is going to protect our livelihoods."
Weber mentioned cap-and-trade, which legislative Republicans managed to block from passing in both 2019 and 2020. She said she believes Democrats' unwillingness to refer the proposal to reduce carbon emissions to voters was "pivotal" in her race, as trucking is crucial to the economy of HD 32 and natural resource industries employ many of its workers.
There are other issues facing HD 32 as well that Weber wants to tackle. She said housing, transportation and rural broadband internet are among the top concerns.
Asked whether she thinks she can work across the aisle with the Democratic majority on those issues, Weber said "absolutely." She cited her work on the Tillamook City Council, and eventually as mayor, which is a nonpartisan position. Partisanship "didn't ever come into any of our decision-making," she said.
"My friends were totally amazed when they found out I was a Republican," Weber said with a chuckle.
Weber also mentioned the area's powerful state senator, Betsy Johnson.
Although a registered Democrat, Johnson regularly garners widespread support from Republicans in her Senate district, which also includes Columbia County, northwestern Multnomah County and northern Washington County. In her two most recent elections, she was cross-nominated by the Republican Party and faced only minor-party opposition.
"I have a wonderful ally and working partner in Betsy Johnson, and I think that together, we can protect our area and move an agenda that's going to impact us economically in a more secure manner," Weber said.
Johnson said Wednesday that she called to congratulate Weber on her victory, and that she plans to have a more in-depth conversation with her soon about priorities for the coming session.
"She and I know each other well and favorably," Johnson said, noting that her Senate District 16 includes the city of Tillamook.
Patrick Maguire, who chairs the Washington County Democratic Party, acknowledged the race was "tough to lose," but he noted the unique circumstances of the race: Mitchell surprised Democrats with her announcement in March that she wouldn't run again, leaving Boothe-Schmidt little time to ramp up, and Republicans lined up a strong nominee in Weber.
"I wouldn't draw too many long-term conclusions about progressive values in this area," Maguire remarked on Twitter late Wednesday.
The House race was the most expensive in the state, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group. Weber raised and spent more than $1.2 million, a massive sum for a legislative contest in Oregon. Boothe-Schmidt raised and spent even more, about $1.4 million.
Weber said she's grateful for the small-dollar donations she received, which she called more "significantly important" to her than larger contributions from interest groups.
"I'm very pleased," Weber said of the results. "It's very gratifying to me to realize all of the support that I had in the district."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from a state senator and local party chair. Peter Wong contributed to this report.
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